Hiking first aid kit: why you need one for everyday occurrences on the trails and emergency situations

Hiking first aid kit
(Image credit: Getty)

When considering your hiking first aid kit, it's worth remembering that they are designed to be tool for providing quick fixes in the event of an accident or injury in the wilderness. It’s a bit like when you duct-tape your ripped trousers until you get home and can fix them properly – except instead of trousers, it’s someone’s body – possibly your own – that you’re temporarily patching up.

The idea of a hiking first aid kit is to enable you to do just enough to keep things together while you’re out on the trails, and for everything you need to fit conveniently in your hiking backpack. Then you can get proper medical attention – or be magically cured by cake and sofa time – once you’re back in civilization.

hiking first aid kit

A good hiking first aid kit is one of the most important hiking essentials (Image credit: Getty)

Some of these hiking first aid kit items can be life-saving, like antihistamine for example. They won’t fix the problem necessarily, but they might keep things at bay just long enough for rescue to arrive. Other items might be basically a fix in themselves. 

No one wants to have to do first aid, but carrying the right kit with you is a good insurance policy whenever you hit the trails because attempting triage without the right equipment and supplies is much worse. This is why a hiking first aid kit is high on our list of hiking essentials and should be on everyone's camping checklist.

No one is asking you to pack a huge bag full of bandages, splints and an ECG machine. Absolutely not. The key to finding the best first aid kit or building your own first aid kit for camping and hiking is balancing safety against practicalities – very much as you do in normal life.

The three main factors to consider when assembling your hiking first aid kit are the type of injuries you might encounter, the likelihood of those injuries occurring and how remote you are intending to go on the trails. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to put together the perfect first aid kit for your activity.

Hiking first aid kit: types of injury

For people of a nervous disposition – or who like writing risk assessments – this will be very easy to think through. Given the type of activity you’re doing, what sorts of things might go wrong? This should include anything and everything, from breaks and sprains to bee stings and mild indigestion. Of course, for the purposes of a first aid kit, you only need to consider fixable hiking injuries. Being eaten by a crocodile or abducted by aliens are off the list.

Of course, it's not just to the direct injury we are concerned with here, but the consequences of not being able to get down to civilisation quickly. If you're going up a mountain, you need enough layers to keep warm in the event of becoming immobile. Blizzard jackets, survival blankets and group shelters are all good options for keeping warm.

people trail running

If you're trail running, you're more likely to suffer a sprain than if you're going for a gentle walk (Image credit: Getty)

Hiking first aid kit: likelihood of injury

Next up, go through your list and consider how likely you are to encounter each one. You don’t have to give them ratings out of ten or anything so specific. Just get a vague idea of how common injuries are in your chosen activity. For example, breaks and sprains are probably more likely in trail running or fast-moving activities. Cuts are more likely when rock or scrambling is involved, blisters for hiking long distances – and so on. It’s not an exact science but just get a feel.

hiker in the mountains

If you're off into the wilderness, your hiking first aid kit will need to be more substantial (Image credit: Getty)

Hiking first aid kit: remoteness

Finally, you can work out which of these injuries you feel you need to pack prevention for based on how remote you will be going. For example, if you are going for a trail run only a couple of hours from your home, you might not feel the need to take much by way of a hiking first aid kit – you can probably hobble back home regardless, or get help. 

On the other hand, if you are going on a long-distance wilderness hike, your hiking first aid kit will be more extensive. You may need to think about things like insect repellent and consider dry bags to ensure your supplies don't get damp. A multitool is a great asset as it negates the need for separate scissors and tweezers and has all manner of applications. Plus in countries where medical aid is sparse, you might choose to take even more first aid provisions with you.

Emily Woodhouse

An adventure writer based on Dartmoor, England, Emily is an active member of Mountain Rescue and a summer Mountain Leader, but loves all things adventure – before her third birthday she had lived on three continents. Founder of Intrepid magazine, she works to help break stereotypes about women in the outdoors. Her expeditions have included walking all Dartmoor’s 119 tors in a single two-week outing, cycling to Switzerland and back, and riding the Rhine from source to sea.